National Security & Defense

The marvelous Marva, &c.

Marva Collins in 1983

Have you ever done this? Earlier this week, I wrote something about Marva Collins, and my spell-check did not recognize “Marva.” I added the name to my “dictionary” (if that’s the right word). I may never type “Marva” again. But I wanted to add the name, in tribute to the late Mrs. Collins.

She was the great teacher out of Chicago. Actually, she was born in the segregated South — Alabama — in 1936. She studied in a one-room schoolhouse. Apparently, the education was strict and very good.

In 1959, she moved north to Chicago (as so many southern blacks did). (Have I mentioned that Mrs. Collins was black? I guess I haven’t.) She taught in the Chicago public schools for 14 years — and didn’t like what she saw. Too little was expected of poor black children. The results were predictably abysmal.

So Mrs. Collins started a school of her own: the Westside Preparatory School. She had the crazy idea that even poor black kids should be taught according to the Socratic method. And that they should be exposed to “the best that has been thought and said,” as Matthew Arnold said.

Was Shakespeare for kids at Groton? It was for kids at Westside, too.

Lately, I’ve been writing about — and bewailing — the high-school English teacher in Sacramento who is required by Common Core to teach Shakespeare to her students. She is exercising some form of civil disobedience, however: She’s refusing to teach Shakespeare because he is but a “dead white male” with nothing to say to her “diverse” students.

Marva Collins, by contrast, was not a dope. She was the opposite of that.

Ronald Reagan, when he became president, wanted to make her education secretary. At least one hears that. But Mrs. Collins demurred, wanting to continue doing what she did.

In 1981, a movie was made of her life, starring Cicely Tyson: The Marva Collins Story. (I think I remember seeing it, although maybe I just read or heard about it.)

In 2004, President George W. Bush presented her with the National Humanities Medal. Other recipients that day, just for the record, included Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hilton Kramer, Shelby Steele, and Harvey Mansfield. That was a banner year.

Marva Collins has now passed from this world. She did a world of good. She stood for a certain universalism that is strongly American. Shakespeare and other classics for kids at Groton and Choate? Shakespeare and other classics for black kids in Chicago, too.

We need Marva Collins, or at least her spirit.

‐From the sublime to the ridiculous, and terrifying: I believe this is the most unnerving article I have read all year. A news report, it’s headed “For Kerry, Iran deal would be a legacy hit after many misses.”

It begins, “If U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pulls off a nuclear deal with Iran, it will be a singular achievement in a long career in which the grand prize has eluded him.”

It continues, “His 2004 presidential election loss, lack of legislative monuments despite 28 years in the Senate, and failure, like many before, to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians have contributed to a view that he struggles to seal major successes.”

A person who has worked with him is quoted as saying, “There’s a sense that he loves a mission that might lead to glory.” A man from the Carnegie Endowment is quoted as saying, “If Kerry hits one grand slam, no one will remember his strikeouts.”

In other words, our secretary of state is very, very, very eager for a nuke deal with the Iranian regime, for reasons of personal reputation. This is extremely dangerous — dangerous to the side that such a person is negotiating for.

The kind of negotiator you want is the person who can walk away, who doesn’t absolutely have to have the deal, least of all for reasons of personal glory or reputation. Least of all to have a “legacy hit,” as that headline says.

Yes, these are extremely dangerous times.

‐A theme of this column has been, Vietnam went to hell after we abandoned the South, rendering American sacrifices in vain; Iraq went to hell after we pulled out, rendering American sacrifices in vain; and Afghanistan?

I fear that the same will happen. In any case, I saw an all-too-interesting news article: “The Afghan Taliban have announced a 24-hour telephone ‘hotline’ for any government employees wishing to defect to the group . . .” (Full article here.)

In other words, Get out now, and we won’t kill you after the Americans leave and we take over.

I of course devoutly hope I’m wrong about Afghanistan, and that it will not turn out like Vietnam and Iraq.

‐The first President Bush spoke of “points of light”: American organizations that brighten the landscape. The Liberty and Leadership Forum of his son George W. is a point of light.

I see here that the forum has just graduated its inaugural class: “18 young leaders from Burma.” Bush said, “We launched this forum to give you the skills necessary to enable your democracy to develop with your traditions and your history.”

He pointed out that two of the people who should have been there were missing: a husband and wife. She is in prison, and he is in hiding.

I shouldn’t make comparisons, but for some 35 years I’ve heard praise lavished on Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency. I like George W.’s, myself.

‐Every once in a while, something will happen that reminds me why I became a conservative (or genuine liberal) in the first place. I’ll see something, or read something. Or think something.

This happened to me earlier this week, when I was reading a National Review editorial. Let me quote just a smidgeon of it.

Under current law, salaried workers earning $23,660 a year or less are automatically entitled to time-and-a-half overtime pay when they exceed 40 hours of work in any given week. The Obama administration wants to raise that threshold to as high as $50,400, meaning that office managers salaried at around $1,000 a week would be treated like minimum-wage fast-food workers in the event — the very likely event — that they clock 41 hours in a week. Under the current rule, about 11 percent of salaried workers (as opposed to hourly workers) are covered by the mandatory time-and-a-half rule; under the higher threshold, the majority of workers, and potentially a large majority, would be covered.

Who could object? Well, people who have grown up, that’s who.

When I was a youngster, I thought of the employee, never the employer. I thought of the worker, never the boss. The boss was the bad guy, in a way.

You say the minimum wage should be five dollars? I say $5.50! You say six? I say seven! And so on.

You say that $50,400 should be the threshold for getting time and a half? Well, you Scrooge, I’ll go as high as $60K. Where’s your compassion, duude? Isn’t more money better than less money?

Sometime in high school or college, I realized that the employer had to be considered: Often, when you made it easier on the employer, that made it easier on the employee, and on the economy in general.

For the existence of employees, you need employers, right? We can’t all work for the government. Can we? I mean, who’s going to pay the taxes?

This is simplest stuff, but it hit me like a thunderbolt, when I was growing up and learning about the world. The simple stuff, the ABC’s, are so very important.

‐At a tea-party event a few years ago, I think, there was a sign — a sign that read, “No Matter What I Put on This Sign, You’ll Call It Racist.”

I thought of that the other day when listening to people talk about the weather. Someone said a certain month was the coldest on record, I think. Another month was the hottest month, or wettest month.

The thought came to me, “No matter what the weather is, they’ll call it global warming, or climate change — man-made weather requiring, whaddya know?, the adoption of socialism.”

Of course.

‐Almost every day, it seems, I see a parody T-shirt — a shirt with a slogan that starts out “Keep Calm and . . .” — and something.

At first, I objected to this. Because I held “Keep Calm and Carry On” to be a venerable thing. A slogan perfectly emblematic of the British in their darkest, and finest, hour. To tamper with it — to cutesify it — was almost a desecration.

I’m used to it now, of course. But I must say I don’t really like it. You?

‐With your permission, I’ll close with Wally Joyner, the former major-league star who is now the hitting coach of the Detroit Tigers. (His glory days as a player were with the California Angels.)

“You can’t control this game,” he said, in this article. “You can’t figure it out. This isn’t a mathematical linear equation that you can figure out. Baseball is abstract. It’s a game you react to.”

This entire article bears reading — and it applies to several elements of life — but I will quote for a bit more.

Joyner works in a world of failure. Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter on the planet, fails more often than he succeeds. So Joyner tries to get the Tigers to focus on hitting the ball hard, not on results.

The man has “a complicated job,” says the article.

It’s part psychologist, part strategist and part technician, because hitting is as much mental as it is physical. . . .

Major league players make constant adjustments, a never-ending process of tweaks. The trick, for the hitting coach, is to find the right words that will click for a player.

I have heard more than one golf pro (teaching pro) say the exact same thing! You will find the same words out of the mouths of voice teachers.

“You do it daily,” Wally Joyner said. “You find little things that might help a player get a feel that he hasn’t been feeling for a while and then, all of a sudden, he takes off.”

May you take off, dear readers, over this Fourth of July weekend and always. See you!

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